Communication Tip: Don’t say “next Friday”. Say “Friday of next week”.

Today is Monday, September 24, 2018.  Suppose that my co-worker Jessica asks me, “Can we meet on next Friday to talk about our report?”.  Does she mean

  • Friday, September 28, 2018?
  • Friday, October 5, 2018?

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The word “next” is tricky to interpret in this situation.  By definition, “next” denotes the instance immediately after the present.  Thus, “next Friday” should mean Friday, September 28, 2018.

However, most Anglophones would interpret this phrase to mean the Friday of the next week, which is Friday, October 5, 2018.  This is not logical, but it is the dominant interpretation.

To prevent this confusion, I avoid saying “next Friday”.  Instead, I say

  • “the upcoming Friday” to denote Friday, September 28, 2018
  • “Friday of next week” to denote Friday, October 5, 2018

These approaches are clear and unequivocal, and they eliminate any chance for confusion.

If this is communicated in an email, then I suggest confirming the correct “Friday” by adding the calendar date.  Thus, I would write, “Let’s meet on Friday of next week, October 5, 2018”.  This method helps the reader to know if we will meet during this week or next week, and it adds another way to confirm the date.

 

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Communication Tip: Write both the day of the week and the calendar date when organizing meetings or planning events

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When proposing a meeting or planning an event in writing, I strongly suggest stating both the day of the week and the calendar date.  For example, I would email my co-worker Mark, “Shall we visit our client on next Tuesday, September 25?”.

Note the contrast between my proposed approach and the following 2 alternatives:

  • “Shall we visit our client on next Tuesday?”
  • “Shall we visit our client on September 25?”

Some careful comparisons will reveal 3 advantages:

  • It forces me to check that I wrote the correct pair between the day of the week and the calendar date.  This is an extra layer of quality control.
  • If I simply write “Shall we visit our client on September 25?”, then I implicitly force Mark to check what day of the week that is.  If I send that email to 10 people, then I’m multiplying this hassle by 10.  I can save all parties a lot of headache by taking the initiative to write “Tuesday, September 25”.
  • Knowing both are very helpful, but often for different reasons.
    • Knowing the specific calendar date eliminates any source of ambiguity about which day it is.  Instead of relying on words/phrases like “tomorrow”, “next Tuesday”, or “the day after”, stating “September 25” is perfectly clear to Mark.
    • If I propose a meeting on a Wednesday afternoon, Mark may immediately know that it is a bad time, because he needs to coach his daughter’s basketball team on Wednesday afternoons.  This illustrates how the day of the week is helpful for coordinating one-time events with events that recur weekly.

In the above example, I have omitted the year, because the working context between me and Mark would imply that meeting in September of next year would be rather strange and unrealistic.  However, stating the year may be helpful or even necessary for certain situations, especially if legal formality is involved.

 

Communication Tip – Write the message of the email BEFORE the subject and the recipients’ email addresses

In every email service that I have used so far,

1) the address fields are on the top

2) the subject field is in the middle

3) and then the text editor for the message is at the end.

However, when I write most emails, I usually write these 3 things in reverse.  This has several important advantages.

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